Jeff Buckley’s Grace: A Personal, Historical View
Editor's note: this year we've presented Dan's views on Pink Floyd's Animals and Bob Marley’s Exodus.
This is our next installment of our occasional, ongoing series
that focuses on individual's engagements with notable albums. If you have an idea
for a spotlight record or wish to submit a piece, please send one our
Eddie Vedder: "Man I had this guy(Jeff) with me once…and we were sittin' down and talkin' and jammin'...he played a version of Indifference(a Pearl Jam song) for me…man I tell ya… I'll never forget the way he did it… I was just fuckin' speechless… one of the most memorable moments of my life… I just wish I had seen him more."
Chris Cornell: "He's going to be the most important artist to so many people throughout their lives."
Bono: "His ululating voice reminds me how few "singers" there are in Rock and Roll."
Love is perhaps the most confusing emotion in the human psyche. It makes people do things they wouldn't normally do and takes a person's often long standing priorities and rearranges them on a near daily basis. At the same time Love has the ability to bring a person to emotional heights unrealized prior to its onset, and can bring a person to unimaginable lows after its loss. I happen to know the havoc Love can bring to someone who throws themselves head first into it, often with reckless abandon, while disregarding to the seemingly inevitable outcome, and outcome which is always crystal clear to everyone but the person in love. At the same time, I've experienced the heights to which Love can bring someone, making each breath better than the last. However, it was the former feelings that led me to discover a relatively unknown musician, unknown at least to me, who I later found out was anything "but" unknown to thousands of people across the world who swear by his words and voice. I consider myself lucky to have become part of that group of people, and I consider myself extremely lucky to have discovered his album. That musician is Jeff Buckley and the album is Grace.
The list is essentially endless when it comes to the number of major musicians who have paid tribute to Jeff Buckley in one form or another. In the days after his body was found floating in the Mississippi River on June 4, 1997, the result of an accidental drowning, it became totally apparent the scope of this man's impact on so many people in such a short period of time. While on this earth, Jeff Buckley, son of semi-famous 70's folk artist Tim Buckley, managed to record only ONE full length band album entitled "Grace". The fact that thousands of people showed up at his funeral, despite his incessant touring of Europe, his only recording one album with virtually no play on the radio or MTV and his never playing a venue HALF the size of an Irving Plaza (1000), speaks volumes about the magnitude of the album's words, his musical ability and, most importantly, the overall raw power of Grace, and its everlasting effect of those of us who feel privileged enough to have connected with the album's message.
Jeff was born in California in 1966, but it was in New York City, specifically the East Village, during the 90s where he would begin to make his indelible mark on the world. Those who have never heard any of his music, or perhaps haven't even heard his name before, probably don't understand how one man could, in the span of only four years, become a near-God to so many people, while spending so much time away from his home. The answer, quite simply, was in his words. Words that showed a young man both obsessed and tortured by love. You see, guys, almost by definition, are brought up trying to be tough and masculine; indiscriminate when it comes to anything except, maybe, football. But yet here's this guy who embodies love and everything it brings, both the good and bad. All this love comes pouring out to create one of the most essential albums to be made in any decade, leave alone the 1990's.
Grace was released on August 23, 1994 and it was Jeff’s second official release, following up a four song EP, Live at Sin-e, featuring just Jeff on guitar, playing live at a tiny coffee shop. The album, "Grace" consists of ten songs, three of which are covers, all of which cover the entire spectrum of sound, from hard to soft. Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" was the single from the album and the one video Jeff made to promote the album. However, as is the case with most great albums, the single was just the tip of the iceberg, and once hearing the album, it becomes quickly apparent that "Hallelujah" serves merely as a lure to the listener, reeling them in, with the prospect of discovering the true gold that lies within the rest of the album.
The first three songs on the album (the ones I'll focus on) are perhaps the best, showcasing Jeff's various influences as well as his penchant for truly heartfelt and gut-wrenching lyrics about love-gone-wrong, lyrics which culminate in one of the most perfect songs ever recorded, aptly titled "Last Goodbye". It is those very lyrics that not only endeared him to so many fans, but forever linked them. For many who could not do it themselves, Jeff's words were the description and expression of everything they were feeling inside, being played over fantastically catchy (at times) music by an extremely talented and original backing band. Not one for much allusion, Jeff often comes right out and says exactly what he's feeling, leaving no room for interpretation by the listener, but instead bowling them over with his brutal honesty.
The first display of the power of Jeff's words can be found in the first song, "Mojo Pin". While the words themselves are engaging, hearing them sung by his powerful voice over his intricate guitar work, combine to show the totality of his talent.
"The welts of your scorn, my love, give me more
Send whips of opinion down my back, give me more
Well it's you I've waited my life to see
It's you I've searched so hard for
Don't wanna weep for you, I don't wanna know
I'm blind and tortured, the white horses flow
The memories fire, the rhythms fall slow
Black beauty I love you so"
As Jeff soars up the scale to reach the notes he sings "Black Beauty" in, one cannot help but truly feel the pain he is expressing, pain that permeates the album, surfacing in nearly every song. Pain with which the listener can identify, which forges an immediate connection between the listener and the album.
As I've stated earlier, Grace as a whole covers all aspects of love and the problems associated with it, and in the title track, the second song, Jeff broaches the topic we all dread, albeit briefly, which is your lover in the arms of another when he says:
"And I feel them drown my name
So easy to know and forget with this kiss
I'm not afraid to go but it goes so slow"
Now, as great as those lines are as is, to hear the raw emotion in his voice when singing, and the raucous energy of the band underneath, truly brings their meaning to the forefront. The first time I listened to the song with the words in front of me, I was nearly frozen by the power of the verse, and the song as a whole. I think at some level, all of us, myself included, can identify with the verse, specifically the second line. In a stroke of pure brilliance, he's penned the a line using obvious words to describe a situation we've all been through. No matter how mad you may be at your significant other as a result of the first line, which is "drowning your name" with someone else, its "so easy to know, and forget with this kiss". That kiss being the one that everyone wants to avoid, because its going to change the current situation, no matter how much you think it won’t. By the time Jeff sings the third line, the band is loud, and Jeff is hardly singing anymore. He's full on screaming the line which has to be heard to believe how good his voice really is.
And finally, the third song "Last Goodbye", contains the best set of lyrics, start to finish, on the entire album. A song about the unfortunate ending to a relationship, Jeff perfectly describes a situation anyone and everyone can relate to, and does so in the form of a tremendous, awe-inspiring song. To single out any one section or verse would be to the detriment of the song as a whole, and therefore, I've included all the lyrics. I don't feel a better example of Jeff's songwriting ability can be found.
This is our last goodbye
I hate to feel the love between us die
But it's over
Just hear this and then I'll go
You gave me more to live for
More than you'll ever know
This is our last embrace
Must I dream and always see your face
Why can't we overcome this wall
Well, maybe it's just because I didn't know you at all
Kiss me, please kiss me
But kiss me out of desire, babe, and not consolation
You know it makes me so angry 'cause I know that in time
I'll only make you cry, this is our last goodbye
Did you say "no, this can't happen to me,"
And did you rush to the phone to call
Was there a voice unkind in the back of your mind
Saying maybe you didn't know him at all
You didn't know him at all, oh, you didn't know
Well, the bells out in the church tower chime
Burning clues into this heart of mine
Thinking so hard on her soft eyes and the memories
Offer signs that it's over… it's over
The song as a whole is very upbeat, but it's the third verse I could listen to over and over as Jeff's voice really shines, singing perhaps my favorite lines he's ever written. Lines pleading to his love, you feel him begging her the whole time, knowing the inevitability of the situation. Unfortunately, many of us are all too familiar with our own real life versions of that verse.
Although not a jamband by any stretch of the imagination, Jeff Buckley's band is as talented as any, playing various styles from one song to the next. One of the most notable aspects of the album is the fact that in spite of the lyrics being the focus, this is in no way an "acoustic" album, which singer/songwriters usually produce. Often getting extremely heavy with layers of dirty guitars, the album, at times, is heavy, at others, soft and mellow. I know that with the diverse types of music that we all listen to, many people would be happy to find room in their lives for a singer/songwriter, if they haven't already. Jeff himself is an extremely talented guitar player, whose style if often overshadowed by his songwriting.
Live, he was capable of moving people to tears in what many who were there likened to a religious experience. One of those people who have connected with Jeff is actor Brad Pitt who feels so strongly about Jeff Buckley, he has been trying to produce a Jeff Buckley movie, one he wants to star in and help finance. After listening to this album as much as I have, I deeply regret never being able to participate in any of those experiences. However, with more and more material coming out every year, I can sit at home, put on Grace, and have an experience of my very own.